This July, the College will welcome the Reverend Valerie Bailey Fischer as the new chaplain to the College. Bailey Fischer will be coming from Cavalry Episcopal Church in Summit, N.J. and is eager to help guide members of the College community, both from religious and non-religious backgrounds, toward reflection and inclusivity.
Bailey Fischer attended Pennsylvania State for her undergraduate degree and originally planned on majoring in biology. Her work in various labs left her uninspired, however, and she ultimately decided to change her major to journalism. After graduation, she wrote for a number of Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Milton Standard, The Lewisburg Daily Journal and The Sunbury Daily Item.
Her career as a journalist helped Bailey Fischer pay off her student loans, but she eventually decided to attend the Union Theological Seminary in New York and become an ordained minister because religion had always been an important part of her life. She had attended a religious preparatory school, participated in Bible study all through her time in college and took a number of theology classes in both high school and college.
“One adage says, ‘Whatever you are doing in college will shape what you do in the first 15 years after college,’” Bailey Fischer said. She considered her religious engagement to be just as valuable, if not more so, than her academic studies and knew that she wanted to be involved with campus ministry from her time in college onwards.
After she graduated from seminary, Bailey Fischer received a grant to start a new campus ministry at Framingham State in Massachusetts. She directed a number of different programs at the university, one of her most influential being the Urban Pilgrimage program. She connected with the “first generation” of high school volunteers and began sending spring break trips to different U.S. cities with the aim of using service as a vehicle for teaching. “The people doing the work and receiving the services were the teachers,” she described.
Her ultimate goal in the program was to get students to reflect not only on what they could do, but why. “It wasn’t just Christian students – anybody could come. And they did come,” she said. “The question was the same for everyone: Why are you doing this?” Activities were centered on learning about current events, such as the recession in New York City and immigration and gentrification in New Jersey. After the trip, many of her students “made major course corrections in their lives,” she explained.
The College’s selection committee was inspired by Bailey Fischer’s experience in campus ministry and her focus on bringing together a diversity of traditions. “We were highly impressed with Valerie’s diverse professional background, particularly her engagement with student-directed interfaith programming that included students from multiple faith traditions as well as those with a more secular focus,” Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass said in an official statement. “The social justice component of her work, as exemplified in her experiential education programming, underscored the empathetic, bridge-building aspect of her approach to ministry.”
As chaplain to the College, Bailey Fischer hopes to continue her work guiding college students in thinking about why they do what they do. “I’m here to help the campus community – particularly the students – find a space where they practice reflection … in the faith tradition or in another tradition,” she said. She has consulted with outgoing chaplain Rick Spalding about the strong religious traditions at the College and hopes to maintain those traditions while also helping to adapt religious life on campus for a “new and rapidly changing age.” While Bailey Fischer is eager to run both old and new religious programming, she emphasized that her primary purpose is to help provide spiritual guidance to students. “I’m here for Williams,” she said.
Photo courtesy of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.